Here are a couple of tricks for getting the most out of recording keyboards. Before we go any further, please note that there are a LOT of different ways to record keyboards, and everyone of them have their own merits (we’ve spoken about many of them right here in inSync – see TTOTD: 04/14/2004 for just one of many). On that note, we’d love to hear about your own keyboard recording tips. Send them to:
Okay, let’s start with an Electric Piano sound. Recording an EP to one track can produce a mix that can lean to one side if it’s panned away from center to make room for vocals and other center panned instruments. If there isn’t another instrument such as a rhythm guitar, to balance it out, producers will send that track to a short delay and pan the delay to the opposite side of the mix for fullness and a balanced mix. This is a common technique for guitar tracks also.
While the panned delay works well, there’s an even more effective technique for creating a sound that fills up the stereo field and still leaves room for other instruments. First, choose two similar sounding EP sounds. It’s even better if you have two different sound modules. Choose each one’s “idea” of what a particular EP is. For example, both synths will probably have a preset called “Tine Piano” but each will have it’s own sonic characteristics. Next, detune one up and one down. Go no farther than +8 cents (up) and -8 cents (down), otherwise you will have tuning issues with other instruments. Record each EP in stereo for a total of 4 tracks of keyboards. From a panning standpoint, you will have a stereo left pair and a stereo right pair. Pan the left pair (EP 1) to 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock and pan the right stereo pair to 2′ o’clock and 4 o’clock. You can probably see how the panning scheme fills the stereo field while leaving space for other instruments. Detuning the keyboards creates a subtle chorus effect that thickens the overall keyboard sound, and the different timbre of each E Piano will eliminate phase cancellation and create depth and additional fullness. You’ll find that this gives you a balanced mix and makes your arrangement sound full without adding additional parts unless, of course, you want to. The two sets of stereo tracks should have the same level for balance. Of course, it’s often necessary to have the keyboard track more prevalent on one side or the other, which can be done by simply putting the levels of one stereo pair higher or lower.
Set overall levels to taste, but keep in mind that you won’t need as much as volume you ordinarily would, which also leaves room for other instruments to sit in the mix without pinning the meters. This technique also works well for synth pads.